Another Day, Another Tart

Tamasin Day-Lewis is, without doubt, the Queen of Tarts. She has published two amazing books, The Art of the Tart and Tarts with Tops on, in addition to several other highly recommended cookbooks. I consider her to be today’s Elizabeth David. Her food is sophisticated without being fussy and is grounded in an alluring combination of the French, British and Middle Eastern traditional cuisine. She is adamant and unrepentant about her crusade for people to use organic produce, to the extent that it isn’t always possible to entirely replicate to the note. However, with that in mind, she (wittingly or unwittingly) allows the reader the ability to improvise on her dishes to suit their own purses/palates/store cupboards and this is what makes her recipes so appealing.
Her particular forte is for the pie in all it’s vivid incarnations (see article below discussing the merits of encasing food in pastry) and it wasn’t until I read her two tart books that I realised that a pie could be a quick supper dish, and not just something to serve on special occasions. For example, if you want something comforting without any hassle, then the Mashed Potato, Stilton and Golden Onion Pie is the one for you. Or if you want something a bit flashy, then how about a Tourte (which is an ancient French pastry dish, dating back to the 13th Century, originally made with herbs or sweetened ‘blette’: beet leaves), filled with potato and herbs, then injected full of rich creamy sauce once baked.
For me though, the best pies are those where I can make the pastry at lunchtime, leave it to rest all afternoon, roll it out when I get home from work, and blind bake whilst I prepare the filling. And just when you think you have reached the pinnacle of what you can put in a pie, you discover another fabulous combination of ingredients that sends your tastebuds swirling in a frenzy of culinary delight.
Last night I made such a pie. I thought it might be difficult trying to top the Smoked Haddock and Watercress Tart, which is truly and sublimely great, and after the disappointing Butternut Squash and Crotin Tart (and a number of other not-so-successful recipes from Tamasin’s latest book, Tamasin’s Kitchen Classics), I was probably straddling the fine line between ecstasy and mediocrity. You may scoff at my dramatic intonation but when I cook something – anything! – I want it to be an unforgettable experience. Every cook, every chef, is hoping to find the Ultimate recipe, the one dish that makes everyone who tastes it melt into a rapturous, dribbling puddle on the floor. Whilst I have yet to discover that recipe (as have most people, I suspect), sometimes something so unexpected surpasses your expectations. Like crunching into a great BLT or a tasting homemade Strawberry Ice Cream for the first time. The tart I made for supper last night, Spinach, Goats Cheese, Tomato and Parmesan Tart was as close to a perfect supper dish as you could hope for, particularly when served with husband’s Olive Oil Scented Crushed Potatoes.
The original recipe specified a Crotin de Chavignol (which is a tiny, hard cheese with a tough rind, produced in France traditionally from raw goat’s milk), but they are quite scarce to come by in these parts, so I used a Dorset produced soft goats cheese instead. I actually preferred the tang of the soft goat’s cheese in this instance, although the oil produced as the cheese melts during cooking does make for a soggy bottom. The flavour is so insistently good that you can overlook that though. The combination of luscious vine tomatoes with tangy goats cheese and ferrous spinach is just perfect, a symbiotic union and when it is unveiled for the first time from the oven, it is a retro dream, all puffed up green and red, like some sort of Christmas Pie.
As I previously mentioned, I make the pastry at lunchtime, which gives it a good four hours in the fridge to firm up. Pastry is so much easier to roll out when it’s very, very chilled. I find that when making an all butter shortcrust, half an hour in the fridge (as recommended in most cookbooks) is simply not long enough and the pastry tends to disintegrate into a floury mass of crumbs that have to be manipulated into the tin, like a patchwork of pastry. It’s not the end of the world if this is the case but if you can make it several hours in advance then all the better.
(from Tamasin’s Kitchen Classics)
Pastry: See Classic Shortcrust Pastry Method, to line an 8” Pie Tin/Plate.
180g plain flour
80g chilled unsalted butter, diced
Iced Water (3-4 Tablespoons)
Sea Salt
About 300g Fresh Leaf Spinach
3-4 Tablespoons Double Cream
2 Free Range Eggs, 2 Egg Yolks (you can freeze the whites)
3 Tablespoons Creme Fraiche
Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg
Sliced Tomatoes (I used four smallish Vine ones, but you alter this depending on the size, they have to roughly cover the top of the tart
About 3-4 Tablespoons Freshly Grated Parmesan (a 3inch chunk, thereabouts)
Make the pastry as above, blind baking it for 15 minutes at 190c. Remove from the oven, discard the beans, gently fork down the pastry in places where it might have bubbled up, taking care not to puncture it and return to the oven for another five minutes to dry out the pastry.
Meanwhile, rinse the spinach in a colander, and place in a dry saucepan. Cook briskly over a high heat, stirring all the time to stop it from sticking and burning. After a few minutes it will start to wilt. Once it resembles an emerald green almost chopped spinach look, put in a blender or food processor with the cream and process for a few seconds. Pour into a mixing bowl and beat in the eggs and egg yolks. Add the seasoning, a swift grating of nutmeg and whisk in the creme fraiche.
Crumble the goat’s cheese onto the base of your par-cooked tart and pour over your spinach mixture.
Turn the oven down to 175c and bake for 15 minutes. After this time, remove the tart from the oven and gently lay the slices of tomato on the top of the spinach mixture. Sprinkle liberally with the grated Parmesan. Return to the oven until the Parmesan is golden brown and crisp looking (but obviously not burnt!). Leave for 15 minutes or so before serving.

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